Stephanie’s Soul Stew – Riding Public Transit

Welcome to the first installment of Stephanie’s Soul Stew. My blog has mostly been about the monthly rundown of events in Portland and my travels abroad, but I want to include musings from daily life. My first installment is what I feel about using public transportation.

Though it can be a challenge to depend on public transit in the cold, rainy months, which in Portland is roughly November through May, I still depend on it as my primary mode of transportation. My husband and I share one car, which works out to being mostly his car as he works a non-traditional schedule, often having to go to work and getting off work outside of Trimet operating hours. There are obvious reasons to take public transit. Besides the cost of buying, maintaining, insuring and filling a second car up with gas, finding street parking would be extremely difficult. The streets of Portland were already crowded before the mass influx in the last few years and now they are even more congested. The frenzy of construction further worsens the driving and parking situation. Taking the bus is the cheaper and less stressful option for me and many others. Besides these practical reasons, there are intangible reasons I prefer transit over driving.

I read on Trimet’s excellent blog that many people prefer public transportation over driving because being in your car is just all about you and your little myopic world while being around people on the bus or train is a wholly different experience of forcing yourself to face humanity. As a writer, public transport is a gift. Stories are jammed into every corner of a rush hour streetcar. Outrageous tales are recounted around me every time I ride. I know how middle school kids talk stupid smack and how middle-aged office ladies hold themselves with quiet dignity. I see how many poor people feed and care for their pets before themselves. I feel couples of all ages deep in love. I hear ugly words tearing relationships apart.

Every time I get on the bus, no matter how sorry I’m feeling for myself that day, there are many others in plain view who have it much worse. How lucky I am to be able to get around without a wheelchair and to not pay my fare with a big handful of coins I’ve had to panhandle. Twice a day I get a good schooling in gratitude and compassion. My husband and I could probably afford to buy a second car or for me to take cabs everywhere, although it would mean a lot of sacrifices elsewhere. For me, taking public transportation is a choice. However, for many there is no choice but the bus, and this number is growing. Many are clearly suffering in the painfully fast gentrification of Portland. Bus riders are looking more haggard, more dirty and more hopeless. Huge swaths of our city’s population are falling fast. I’ve heard many homeless people say they ride the bus or train all day long because it is warm, dry and safe. The bus is one of the last egalitarian, open, public spaces in America. I count myself lucky that it even exists in my city.

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